Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Ark Addendum - Rodimus Prime's Transformation

This is it; the last Ark Addendum of 2009.  This one, by request from commentor Jeff P., is the extended Transformation for Rodimus Prime.  I'll admit that it's not one of the more exciting or well thought out transforms, but I suppose it gets the job done.  Note that, unlike Optimus, Rodimus' trailer is integrated into his body.  Not very well, mind you, but it's in there.  Note the odd shading on his models.  I suppose it was to attempt to emphasize the most visually interesting aspect of his Transform, which would be the way he springs to his feet.  It seems just a bit out of place, though.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Ark Addendum - Fort Max Battlestation Transform

Welcome to another edition of The Ark Addendum.  The very first edition back in November of 2008 featured the transformation of Fortress Maximus from city to robot. This time, it's his transformation from city to battlestation, an nine-step process.

I'm a sucker for these transformation schematics. This particular one is quite accurate to the toy, which they can't always be.

Hope you enjoy.  This may have to tide you over till the new year, since I'm on vacation and am not sure how much time I'll have for blogging.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bish's Review: Marvel UK #84 "Target: 2006" Part 6

"Target: 2006" Part 6 was written by Simon Furman, pencilled by Geoff Senior, lettered by Richard Starkings, coloured by Gina Hart and edited by Ian Rimmer. This is a group of people whose names I have had to type quite frequently but I think this is probably the Marvel UK team I would rank as the best line-up overall.

The cover is by Phil Gascoine and it's ... sort of ok. Galvatron and Unicron on a cover together should be an awesome sight but it doesn't really work. Galvatron is well depicted considering this is the comic version and he has a great level of detailing as well as an arrogant "look how powerful I am" expression, but he's standing on nothing and looks like he was just pasted in there. Equally, it's a good rendering of Unicron's planet mode, but the rocket trail makes it look like he's been zipping through space at great speed. Ignoring actual physics it completely relieves Unicron of the sense of foreboding that should come with his arrival. The fact that he travels in a stately manner is key to the air of power and lingering doom that surrounds him and this cover misses that completely.

We open on Cybertron with Impactor taking a punch to the jaw. He is in the middle of a fight and it clearly isn't going well. A mysterious opponent dashes him face first into the ground and attaches an inhibitor claw to his back, preventing him from transforming. He turns to find himself staring down the gun barrels of three previously unseen Decepticons. They introduce themselves as Broadside, Sandstorm and Springer.

Impactor refuses to take this lying down. He leaps to his feet and manages to smash his opponents aside, making a dash for it. Springer stops Sandstorm from using his gun saying "we don't need them". He uses his leaping ability to jump clean over Impactor's head and stop him short. Impactor refuses to beg for his life and then, inexplicably, the three Decepticons transform and move out.

As they leave, Springer tells Impactor that he'll see him back at Debris and tosses him a small, orange cube. Impactor is thoroughly confused at this, as Debris is the hidden Autobot base but the cube reveals all. It contains the face of Emirate Xaaron, smiling infuriatingly. He explains to Impactor that the three attackers were in fact Autobot triple-changers who can take Ultra Magnus' place in Operation Volcano if he does not make it back. The art is wonderfully expressive here as Impactor goes from confusion to pure frustration at being outmanoeuvred by the politician. He crushes the cube without even replying, which of course will not bother Xaaron one bit. The point has been made, Volcano is still viable.

Back on Earth, Galvatron is mocking his captive, Jazz. Jazz seeks to provoke him into revealing information about his past by feigning indifference, which Galvatron immediately calls him on, but then, in his monumental arrogance, tells him anyway:

What follows is hardly news to a modern Transformers fan but it must have been mind-boggling stuff back in 1987. I'm sure everyone reading this will know the story inside out. Seriously, if you're reading this and have no idea of what happens in "Transformers: The Movie" give a shout out in the comment section - I'd be thrilled, and amazed, to hear from you. Anyway, I'm going to recap it anyway, so buckle up:

We learn that twenty years into the future Optimus Prime will finally defeat Megatron in battle. The most interesting thing to note here is that there is no mention whatsoever of Optimus' death by Megatron's hand. In fact, while Megatron lies broken and spent, Prime is still on his feet, looking relatively undamaged. Was this a case of the creative team not knowing exactly what was in store, or were they trying to preserve the shock factor of the movie? It was still unreleased, according to a "coming soon" caption in one of these panels. Of course, the in-story explanation would be that Megatron (or Galvatron) might not actually know that Optimus Prime is dead, since he is never told this directly. However, he does say "I crushed him with my bare hands" so he at least knows that Prime was in a bad way.

The dying Decepticon leader will be tossed into space by Starscream where he would have expired had he not encountered a metal being the size of an entire planet - Unicron! Unicron gifts Megatron with a new form. He is rebuilt into Galvatron - a Decepticon with more raw power than Megatron could ever have aspired to with one proviso - he now has to serve Unicron.

Of course, Galvatron is still essentially Megatron, and any regular reader of the comic knows that this is not a state of affairs that Megatron would have put up with for any length of time. This brings us to the part of Galvatron's plan that differs from Transformers: The Movie. Galvatron uses an un-specified method to time-jump back twenty years in order to escape Unicron's grasp. It turns out that the giant machine he has had the Constructicons build is in fact a cannon that, twenty years from now, will blast Unicron to pieces the instant Galvatron returns to 2006 (2005 in the movie, but they were working from an old script). Galvatron's gloating is interrupted when Cyclonus returns and gives him the bad news. Scourge is missing and Megatron is working with the Autobots. Jazz finds this hilarious and Galvatron reveals his barely hidden savage nature by beating the Autobot into unconsciousness.

Elsewhere, Shockwave has met up with Frenzy and Thundercracker who remember being trashed by Omega Supreme then waking up in the Ark, but have no idea what else has transpired.

This meeting is offset by a sequence showing three new Autobots: Kup, Hot Rod and Blurr time-jumping into 1987. Shockwave's rant is cut short when he and his companions are enveloped by the same rainbow effect as removed Optimus Prime back in the prologue. Conclusive proof that Galvatron's time travel is the cause of the Autobots' disappearances.

As the Autobots fully resolve into their new time zone a sinister booming laugh is heard across the universe. Can this be anyone but Unicron himself?

It has actually been very difficult to review "Target: 2006" because, well, it's so good. It is easy (and fun) to pick apart a bad story, or to point out the areas where an otherwise good story fall down but this epic is, for the most part, fairly flawless, and no issue more so than this one.

This is the issue where Furman gets all his ducks in a row for the mayhem to come. Galvatron is really Megatron (ok, we heard that last issue, but now it's explained), Volcano is set to begin, we have three more arrivals from the future and Shockwave has disappeared into the ether. There's an awful lot of plot for eleven pages with Galvatron's origin story of course being the big event of the issue.

With all this plot sloshing about, it's important not to forget that without engaging characters, the story is hollow and Furman never forgets this. My favourite characters in this issue are Impactor and Xaaron. A pair who clearly know exactly what the other is capable of and gel incredibly well together in their somewhat antagonistic relationship. Impactor is constantly frustrated by Xaaron but he always loses because he knows that Xaaron understands him better than he understands himself. Had Xaaron merely introduced the triple-changers to Impactor he would never have accepted them at short notice with no proof of their abilities. Impactor needed to be defeated by them to accept that they could do what was required. This is why Impactor does not bother replying to Xaaron's message. Because he is angry, yes, but mostly because he knows that Xaaron is right.

Honourable mention must, of course, go to Galvatron, who gives us a highly entertaining infodump with all the bluster we expect from a future Decepticon commander and looks dangerously close to losing the plot completely when he hears of Megatron's Autobot alliance.

A strange thing I noticed - When Megatron is lying on his back with smoke pouring from his chest during Galvatron's origin sequence Senior uses almost exactly the same composition as he did in "Victory" for Grimlock's death. Admittedly Grimlock is a T-Rex with all the anatomical differences that would imply, but the similarities are evident, I think.

I'm not going to bother recommending this issue outside of "Target: 2006" itself. If you haven't read this story then read it immediately and if you have then read it again.  IDW's trade of  Transformers: Target: 2006 is available from Amazon.com.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #38: Trial by Fire!

Trial by Fire! is the thirty-eighth issue of the US G1 Marvel comic.  It's written by Bob Budiansky and drawn by José Delbo.  Dave Hunt joins the crew as the primary inker of the book, which means that we're going to have some creative stability for a while.  Yomtov, as always, does the coloring, and Bill Oakley does the letters.  The cover is a Frank Springer.

The cover features a rather dramatic scene, with Fortress Maximus on some kind of natural bridge over what looks like lava or acid, shielding a human (Spike Witwicky, as it goes) from the sting of Scorponok.  Lord Zarak, too, blasts at the Autobot, which gives a  certain amount of symmetry to things that I find appealing.  Scorponok's claw looks positively massive!  One wouldn't want to run into him in a dark cave ... or even a brightly lit one.  The legs on Scorponok seem a little ornamental, but other than that it's a great image.  The Grimlock in the Marvel box has been replaced by the image of Fort Max removing his head - if the cover image alone wasn't enough to tell you, that element surely signals that the Headmasters and co are here to stay.

The issue opens on board the as-yet-unnamed Steelhaven.  Fortress Maximus is in the final stages of reconstruction.  He's being rebuilt to be twice as large and four times as powerful - a double headmaster who's head becomes the robot Cerebros, who is in turned headed by Galen.  When Chromedome questions the necessity of preparing for war like this, Galen briefly recounts the events of the Headmasters mini-series.  Perhaps it's the way he departed Nebulos, but Galen seems a lot colder than the last time we saw him.  Clearly his sacrifice weighs heavily on his broad shoulders.

Meanwhile, at the Witwicky garage, RAAT soldiers stand guard as emergency workers comb through the rubble.  A young man arrives home and blows past the police so that he can frantically dig through the rubble.  A hand on his shoulder interrupts him - it's his dad, Sparkplug, looking spry and cheerful somehow.  Maybe he's just glad to be alive?  Sparkplug fills Spike in on the events of #37, and Spike decides to take a look for Buster to make sure he's OK.    Spike drives to Mount St. Hilary and soon finds the discarded remains of the Autobot camp, along with a damaged toy car.  He briefly speculates that it might be Buster's, but rejects that idea and tosses poor Goldbug aside. 

With Earth in sight, the five Autobot headmasters head down to the planet to locate the source of the Autobot distress call.  They're surprised to find Earth teeming with intelligent life that resembles themselves, but Galen shows little image.  He's got tunnel vision for locating the other Autobots.  Having abandoned one culture, he's eager to embrace his new one.  Down to Earth the Headmasters, er, head, and soon Spike finds himself hiding from these massive steel titans.  He witnesses them locate Goldbug and display images of Goldbug's extremely lopsided battle with Ratbat and the abduction of Buster.  (For the record, that's two humans who looked like they may have been killed last issue but weren't. Also Goldbug. Ratbat is surprisingly soft.)  Brainstorm is gung-ho for a rescue, but Fortress Maximus wants to begin the search for the missing Autobots immediately.

This prompts Spike to come out of hiding.  His understanding is that the Autobots were the good guys, and he expects the Headmasters to act like it.  When Fort Max refuses, he accuses them of being cold and lifeless machines.  Galen shows Spike the error of his ways and indeed expresses sympathy for Spike's plight ... but no responsibility.  Technically, of course, Galen is right, but ironically in his eagerness to locate the Autobots of Earth he is behaving more like a Decepticon.  Spike is left in the cave, alone, while the Autobots leave to try to find Grimlock and co. 

Hours later, the Decepticon ship drops out of warp.  The landing platform of the ship is now the back of the ship, an error that sort of started in Headmasters #4.  Unlike the Autobot-allied Nebulons, who admired Earth's beauty, Zarak displays nothing but contempt for the world.  Down they go, and Spike quickly realizes that he's in trouble.  He hides from the Decepticons and decides that the Autobots, insensitive though they were, deserve a warning.  He repeats the distress call from Goldbug to summon them back, but is located by Scorponok for his troubles.  Spike feigns ignorance of the Autobots when questioned, and that abortive interrogation is quickly interrupted by the arrival of the Autobots.

We get a nice three pages of battle before Scorponok realizes that the newly rebuilt Fort Max is outclassing him.  He goes looking for an advantage and spies one ... the human Spike.  Max realizes that his adversary has left the battle and pursues. As the tunnels get narrower and narrower, the participants shed layer after layer of their protection until Zarak and Galen are grappling on a narrow ledge over lava, with Spike's fate in the balance.  Zarak outwits his foe by having Scorponok fire at the cave above Spike's head.  Galen shoves Spike out of the way but gets crushed for his trouble.  Scorponok is satisfied that with Maximus out of the picture, the battle is his.

Spike wonders at Galen's sacrifice, after his earlier indifference.  The Nebulon had come to an epiphany,though, that allowing even one innocent Earthen to die because of his arrival would violate all he stood for.  In a way, though, this means that Galen learned nothing.  His character arc looks very much like that of Optimus Prime - realizing that he's brought conflict to a world and feeling guilt about it, ultimately sacrificing himself.  The main difference is that Prime would come back, while Galen would not.  He had a chance to learn that he should have intervened even if it WASN'T his problem or his fault, making him the better man/bot.  Alas, it was not to be.

Galen urges Spike to take the helmet, so that his death was not in vain.  Soon the mechanized advance of Scorponok is blunted by the return of Fortress Maximus, now under the command of Spike.  Scorpnok orders a retreat, and the Autobots soon follow suit as the volcano erupts.  Highbrow mourns the loss of a true leader, even as Hardhead welcomes their new leader.  Spike wonders, incredulously, if they mean him.  They do, of course, for no good reason that I can think of except that his is the biggest toy.

It's a good issue, not quite a great one.  Galen seems to have taken a step backwards in terms of characterization.  I suppose it was to make his sacrifice somehow self-inflicted, but mightn't a purely selfless sacrifice had also worked?  The idea of Spike as the new leader is also completely out of left field.  I can accept him as the new head of Fort Max - the bonding has already started - but having Chromedome or Hardhead or Kup take command would have been a lot more sensible.  Perhaps later, after Spike had earned their trust, he could assume that mantle.   On the other hand, it's great to see the two plotlines integrated so relatively seamlessly, Ratbat's unexpected mercy aside.  The contrast between the Autobots and Decepticons in terms of their reaction to Earth was nice too.  The Delbo/Hunt art team seems to be working really well.  The first shot of Scorpnok on Earth is just a fantastic piece.  Some of that is that Scorponok is a really visually entertaining character in both modes.  He's go to many angles on him!  It definitely helps camouflage some of the weakness of the story.  Trial By Fire! is available for sale in  Classic Transformers Volume 3 .

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ten THOUSAND pages of content!

So, I've been a fan of the Tranformers wiki ever since ... umm ... I got into a big argument with a fellow fan about it. Well over a year, anyway. In that time I've been a pretty decent editor, adding my share of pages, and taken ownership over certain areas where I have a strong expertise. So, as the wiki approached ten thousand pages of legitimate content, I started to get excited. I've been a not-insignificant factor in both generating and cataloging that knowledge, so I felt a certain amount of pride. But how to celebrate?

I've got my private 'to-do' list, which has a subsection on wiki pages that I'd like to build. Normally I just bang one out whenever I get inspired to do so, but once the wiki hit 9,970 or so I started to approach things a bit differently. I still did about 99% of the work of generating a page, including uploading all the relevant images, building out pages using the preview tools and making sure that everything looked good. I just didn't hit submit. Instead I saved these pages to a text file and kept them in my back pocket. By this Monday, 12/14/09, I had gotten twelve pages like this. I had a few rules for myself. They had to be legitimate pages of content that I would have made anyway. Also, they couldn't be stubs, I had to have all the relevant info on the matter at hand. At just after eleven, the wiki hit 9988 pages, which was the magic number. I was good to go, and started queuing up my pages. However, there was an issue. One of the pages that I had ready had already been made. I looked around and saw that another user had been filling out pages of the Transformers Animated comic book adaptations of the episodes and realized that that'd be really easy to do. I whipped up that page, then cascaded down my other eleven pages, one after another. By 11:14, I'd published page number 10,000.

Which page did I choose to go with? Why, my wife, of course, the beautiful and talented Ming-Li. I had written her into the universe while naming some of the characters from Street Demon, a television show within the Transformers Animated universe. It seemed like a fitting tribute to her to make her avatar the specific milestone.

For the record, the pages I created within a span of three minutes were Eshems aliens from the IDW movie comics, bounty hunters Burn-Out and Skunge from a Marvel comic, liquid oxygen from the recently reviewed Marvel #37, Forrest Forsythe from #37 and several other stories, the Best of Transformers (v1) anthology, an EXTREMELY obscure Japanese fan contest character creator called Autosanrin, Animated Ming-Li's fellow Street Demon Roxy Sparkles, the city that I love Los Angeles, and the Junkion's ship from the classic movie, dubbed The Minnow in The Complete Ark. Someone beat me to the punch on the Eshems Nebula, so I swapped in an adaptation comic.

So, that's the story of how I hijacked the Transformers Wiki for my own personal benefit. I will fully acknowledge that it was a bit cheesy of me to do so, but I figured that it was all in good fun and no one has complained about it to me yet. Besides, most of the other milestones are equally obscure concepts, like writer Larry Leahy who co-wrote one episode of the G1 cartoon, or a satellite from a Big Looker storybook. If you use the wiki, you know how damn good it is. If you haven't checked it out, you're doing yourself a disservice. I guarantee that anyone reading this blog will find lots of interest. http://tfwiki.net/

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Ark Addendum - Apache Helicopter

Well, after three weeks (and eight pages) of Webworld, it's time for a change. I figured I'd get away from the US cartoon and look eastward. (Technically, it's more west for me since I'm in California, but, whatever.)

Masterforce! Masterforce was known for its heavy use of humans. That extends to the model packs as well. When the Destrons begin to make their presence on Earth felt, the military might of the Earth was turned against them ... to little effect, of course. Still, the brief combat gave us some gorgeous models, including this Apache helicopter.

It's actually quite a break from the futuristic aesthetic of 2010 and Headmasters, much like the rest of the setting of Masterforce. It's also interesting how detailed they made the models. At seven drawings, that's as many as we get for almost any alternate mode. You don't see me complaining, anyway! Hope you enjoy!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Iván's Gallery: Salaak

After a few weeks off (and really, who isn't super-busy this time of year?), Iván returns with more of his exploration of the Green Lantern universe. This time, rather than the brutal baddies of Sinestro Corps, it's the stalwart heroes of the Green Lantern Corps. Without further ado, Salaak! Here's what the artist has to say about it:

Not have much time lately, but the other day I could do this little drawing, not rust.

It Salaak, the green lantern emissary of Guardians.
It has a design that I like, because it lends itself to many interpretations, and I think that aspect of insect and arms offer many possibilities.

Later I added the logos and title to dress more drawing. Originally this all done by pencil, then just had to paint it with photshop level and with the correct order and the pen itself does color effect that interested me.

It is not difficult and is well.
I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Review: Marvel G1 #37: Toy Soldiers!

Toy Soldiers! is the thirty-seventh issue of the US G1 Marvel ongoing Transformers series. Bob Budiansky continues to helm the ship as writer. Pencils are by José Delbo, inks by Akin & Garvey, Colors by Yomtov and Letters by Bill Oakley, who joins the book as its primary letterer after previously working on Plight of the Bumblebee!. The cover is also by Delbo.

The cover is solid. Buster Witwicky is front and center, running away from four of the Predacons in what is apparently a shopping mall. Three toy race cars zoom out in front of him. It's a well done cover - the composition is excellent and the rendering emphasizes the motion and the excitement. "Suburban Shootout!", it proclaims, and "Mayhem at the Mall!" The words don't hurt but don't add so much either. Yomtov's colors add to the strong composition, with a large red triangle of Predacons in the back and cooler colors running away from them (also as a triangle) in the front.

The issue itself opens with an image that is perhaps a bit redundant with the cover. The Predacons rampage through a chemical storage facility, making off with some liquid oxygen. In and of itself, it's a strong opening splash, but after looking at the cover it feels like a retread. The Constructicons, meanwhile, are absconding with some steel girders from a construction site. This might have been a better choice for the opening splash, but then I suppose that the Constructicons were almost four-year-old toys by this point.

This rise in Decepticon malfeasance has not gone unnoticed by the Government. I.I.I. is determined to combat the rise in robot terrorism, and they're drawing on one of the few advantages they have; six captive Autobots. Walter Barnett questions them again, and again is frustrated by their answers. They deny any knowledge of the attacks, and observe that the Autobots are doing an unusually bad job of keeping the Decepticons contained. Barnett again rejects the assertion that there are two warring camps of robots, much to the frustration of all involved. He has to cut the interrogation short when his family arrives. He was going to take his son to visit relatives, but he's worked too long. His son is a good sport about it, though, playing with his remote control cars. They're searched as they leave, with Barnett dwelling on his boss' assertion that tomorrow may be too late for further interrogations.

Walter soon finds out what Forsythe meant. His boss had delivered an ultimatum to the robots; cease the attacks or the captives are to be executed. The Decepticons waste no time in attacking, forcing I.I.I.'s hand. Barnett has finally come around to the realization that his captives have been telling the truth, but it's too late. Or ... is it? His son's toys give him an idea, and soon he's giving Goldbug and the others a proposition. Of course, this isn't the first time Barnett has drawn inspiration from son. Back in issue 15, it was his son's comic that gave him the idea of the Robot-Master character. It's a nice bit of character-continuity.

Mr. Forsythe solemnly presides over the execution of the six Autobots. One by one, they're crushed in a car-crusher, a fitting method for automobiles. Barnett heads out just as things finish up, walking out the door with a briefcase filled with cars ... and Autobots? Barnett has connected the tiny brain modules of the Autobots to his son's cars, allowing him to walk right out the door with them. Goldbug directs them to the home of the Witwickys, for only they would be allowed to openly approach the Ark. It's left unsaid, but presumably even Grimlock wouldn't be able to turn the long-time ally of the Autobots away without a very good reason.

At Triple-I headquarters, Forsythe is finally convinced of the error of his ways when the Predacons, under the command of Ratbat, strike. They're here to confirm the execution of the Autobots, whom Razorclaw helpfully calls the Decepticon's "sworn enemies." It seems a bit clumsy, really, given how savvy Ratbat normally is. Soon the fuel auditor determines that there are no brain modules, and they soon give chase.

Buster and Sparkplug work at their garage, Sparkplug excited at the prospect of a visit from his other son, Spike. Of course, we in the audience have never heard of this older brother who was away at college before, but then the Headmasters are going to be coming to Earth soon and one must get one's ducks in a row. Buster's upset about the execution of the Autobots, while Sparkplug is a bit more ambivalent. When Barnett pulls up with the Autobots in a briefcase, Sparkplug wastes no time giving Buster his blessing to go with him. After all, national security is at stake. Unfortunately, Goldbug is starting to get low on juice, so they decide to stop in a mall for batteries.

Ratbat and the Predacons have tracked the fuel trail to the garage, and when Sparkplug refuses to give up his son's location there is some fun off-screen action. Soon the Predacons have found the mall and the real fun starts. They merrily run through kiosks, pet stores, toy stores and more as they hunt the Autobots. Barnett drops the briefcase while dodging a blast from Razorclaw and then the Autobots zoom around the mall, deftly dodging their pursuers. Ratbat has zeroed in on Buster, who thwarted him once before back in issue #31. Buster is trying to help Goldbug, who's almost out of juice. Oddly, he doesn't seem so fuel-efficient now, though perhaps it's just that he's been talking the most. Ratbat pursues Buster into a Radio Shed (yuk yuk), which allows the ever-competent Barnett to trap the cassette with a metal grate. The agent then orders Buster to safety - he'll help the Autobots.

Buster realizes that he can help at least one Autobot - his old friend Bumblebee Goldbug. He's got batteries in his portable radio, improbably carried all this time. He pops them out (after accidentally opening the cassette door - can you see where this is going?) and soon Goldbug is A-OK again. The two of them run back to the pickup and head to the Ark, but they're surprised to find the cavern containing it empty. Goldbug uses some equipment left behind to send a distress call to Cybertron - the same one picked up in Headmasters #4 - at which point Ratbat comes back online! He hid himself in the open tape compartment, but was knocked offline when Buster threw it into the truck. Ratbat crushes Goldbug in his talons, and informs Buster that he is finished! The end!

It's another well-crafted Budiansky tale. From the unusual environments (this time, a shopping mall) to the consistent characters (Barnett's inspiration, Ratbat's desire for revenge) to the car-themed executions, this one has many of the elements that he liked to include in his stories. There's plenty of action, some serious like the opening, some whimsical like the climax. Triple-I shines again, for more-or-less the last time. Following Forsythe's realization, they won't be used as antagonists from this point forward. Even the title has a double-meaning. Not only are the Throttlebots literally toy soldiers by the end of the book, but the warriors of R.A.A.T. sure seem like toy soldiers, playing war games against a real army. Only Barnett seems to have the creativity to deal with them effectively, and some of that is borrowed from his son. I'm again forced to wonder if Barnett isn't a stand-in for Budiansky himself.

Not that there aren't any inconsistencies. Ratbat is clearly aware of the value of having the humans treat Autobots and Decepticons as equal threats, and so should have briefed the Predacons better. How hard would it have been to have them say that they were there to retrieve the bodies of honorable fallen comrades? There are some other issues with the ending that we won't find out about for a while, but apparently Ratbat just leaves Goldbug's body lying in the Ark cavern after going to all the trouble of tracking it down. Also, it would seem that Barnett and the Throttlebots were able to evade the Predacons off-camera. That's not impossible, but it's at least improbable.

Still, a fun and tightly-scripted book. Delbo's art is very on-model and his composition is consistent and effective, if uninspired. My concerns about it being too childish were for naught. Mildly recommended. Toy Soldiers! is available for sale in IDW's  Classic Transformers Volume 3 .

UPDATE: B-W has pointed out, quite rightly, that there the scene of Ratbat interrogating Sparkplug while hidden from the reader by the garage was terrific. Actually, I meant to point this out but it slipped my mind while I was putting the review together. His fate was left ambiguous in this issue, which was a very effective choice. Thanks for the reminder, B-W!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Ark Addendum - Webworld (part 8)

The final set of models from Webworld. It's been a long, strange trip but I think it was fun.

This week, we finally get to see the Alya, the ultimate villains of the piece, who weave the organic circuitry that makes up the living world that is Torkulon. These creepy critters attempt to patch the world directly into Galvatron's brain, but through sheer force of will he manages to overwhelm their network and head to the ravine where the heart of the world, and the oldest part of the web, resides. One well-placed plasma cannon blast knocks the entire world consciousness offline, after which Galvatron proceeds to wrought untold destruction on the Torkuli.

There is also an unused control room. I wasn't entirely sure if it was Quintesson or Torkulon, but ultimately went with Torkulon since Quintessons don't need chairs, and because the page reference on the models correspond to the middle of the episode, well after the Quintessons' appearance in the episode.

I hope you enjoyed the experiment - eight pages of Webworld, spread out over three weeks. A big thank-you goes to Monzo, for providing about half of the models used in this series. Next week we'll return to our usual scheduled program of models.

Monday, December 7, 2009

We Are Of Peace - the language of the Visitors

I was never a massive fan of the original V series. I enjoyed it well enough, when I caught it, but I never really delved into the whole mythology. When I learned that they were doing a reimagining, I figured I'd give it a shot. After all, I was skeptical about Battlestar Galactica (another show I only caught bits and pieces of over the years) and that turned out to be phenomenal.

This won't be a full-on review of the show. I'm still forming my opinion on it. They've done some things very right, like not dragging out mysteries we already know the answer of. However, there seems to be a bit too much coincidence going on. When Lost does it it's cute, since they've established that there is some paranormal force drawing them all together. When V does it it just seems like bad writing; mild twists for the sake of mild twists.

What did catch my eye was that the Visitors have a fully developed character set. I did some digging and it turns out that it's a very similar font to the symbols in the original V series. That one was coded by a friend of mine back when I was making new fonts all the time, Tommy of Escondido. However, in the classic series there were no numerals. This series added some, and a handy countdown in episode four (It's Only the Beginning) allowed my buddy Bill Forster and I to figure out what those were. We got to work and updated the font, with permission from Tommy of course. So, without further ado, the font of the visitors. I debated calling the font We Are Of Peace, but decided to go with the more simple Visitor 2009. I figured it'd be annoying if one had to remember the more fanciful name every time one went to go use it.

I can confirm that this font is in canonical order. That is, you can use it to read signs on the show. Many of them are translated to English anyway, but not always. The language of the visitors is written top to bottom, then left to right. While Tommy did much of the work originally, Bill and I sat down and re-cracked the language just to be sure. We used the message sent by Ryan Nichols, "John May Lives," as our first step. Once there, we were able to quickly ascertain the rest of the character set. As an exercise, here is an untranslated sign from the visitor embassy in New York.

Here's a last few notes for the font geeks out there. The V language consists of 41 characters, up from the 26 in English. The macrons and digraphs DO get used in the show, but typically not in signs. I suppose from a production standpoint it's a lot easier to write "checkpoint" and then convert to V than it is to replace the letters 'c' and 'h' with the 'ch' character. They do show up on computer screens though. Their numbering system seems to be straight base-ten, though I'll keep watching that to be sure.

V airs on ABC and is going to come back with new episodes in March. The font is a true-type font, free to download and distribute.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Review: Marvel Headmasters #4: Brothers in Armor!!

Brothers in Armor!! (note the DOUBLE exclamation mark ... how exciting) is the fourth and final issue in the Marvel Headmasters limited series. The creative line-up remains largely unchanged. Budiansky was the writer, Springer the penciler, Akin & Garvey the inkers and Yomtov the colorist. Only the letterer changed from issue to issue, with Morelli taking over for the final chapter. The cover is by Frank Springer as well.

The cover suffers from being too gimmick-focused. Hot Rod (lacking a spoiler, no doubt for compositional reasons) stands front and center, battling against a yellow and a green Terrorcon. An orange Kup stands to his side, but the real action is the dramatic transformation of the Nebulon Sparks (aka Firebolt) into his gun. It's a rather dramatic image, but it lacks some of the depth of prior covers in this mini-series. It certainly does sell the concept, though. "Enter: The Targetmasters!" it proudly tells us, as well as promising that it is the "Fierce Final Issue."

The issue begins with some more lovely Budiansky prose. His pleasant words about the Mercury Gardens of Melanossus contrast with the devastation of a battle between the Decepticon Headmasters and the Monsterbots. Soon the Autobots realize that their stand is causing more harm than good and retreat, a theme that will be revisited again and again in this issue. Zarak enjoys a little rant as they flee, but soon composes himself enough to give the NNN (Nebulan News Network) an interview. This is, of course, another slick way to impart to the audience the events of the past three issues, though from a thoroughly biased point of view. When the reporter asks him if he considers this battle a victory for planet Nebulos, Zarak glances over to the devastated national treasures and succinctly replies 'yes.'

The Autobots, meanwhile, are sick of hiding in the swamps. Some Nebulons have joined them, criminals to their government, which is why they all use codenames. They're dressed in robot suits and want to help defend the Nursery from Decepticon aggression. Crosshairs grouses that many of them don't even have weapons, but Pointblank cryptically mentions that between their new allies and a twist on bio-mechanical engineering, that won't be an issue. Hot Rod also picks up a distress call from the Autobots on Earth, something that we'll find out more on later. Crosshairs wants to use the message as an excuse to leave Nebulos forever, but Blurr and Pointblank won't leave while Fortress Maximus and the other Headmasters are in custody. So, naturally, they ... head for the Nursery. It's a slightly muddled exchange, probably made so by the need to get Targetmasters explained in this issue.

In Koraja, site of the Decepticon base and the captive Autobot/Nebulons, Vorath has also picked up the transmission. Zarak has other concerns - his daughter, Llyra, has come to see Galen with her own eyes. Galen is hooked up to a macro-restraining harness, that keeps him alive but inert. Zarak wakes Galen for Llyra, who storms out when the captive attempts to restrain himself. Zarak can't help but gloat, but Galen warns Zarak that the Decepticons are no ally to Nebulos. The exchange is interrupted when the Decepticons learn of the Autobot advance on the Nursery. "Transform and roll out," Zarak commands the horde of beasts without legs.

At the Nursery, six Autobot cars arrive. They're ready to defend the structure, and the opportunity comes moments later when Scorponok's bestial crew arrives. Shockingly, the six Nebulon allies convert into weapons and the Autobots strike at their hated enemies. In a very nice touch, each of the Autobot's weapons is shown to have a different type of blast. Springer did his homework - Blurr's partner Haywire, an electo-laser cannon, is drawn spitting out lightning bolts. Pointblank's partner Peacemaker, a sterophonic sonic blaster, fires a wavy line. The others are similarly appropriate. Soon they too, like the Monsterbots before them, realize that the longer the fighting lasts, the more the structure they seek to protect will be damaged. With the nursery in ruins, the Targetmasters retreat. Zarak observes the carnage mid-rant and has a moment of realization.

Several days later, the Decepticons have succeeded in duplicating Targetmaster technology. Zarak has no interest in that, nor his daughter, and instead goes to see Galen. He revives Galen and tries to tell him about what he's discovered. Galen doesn't want anything to do with his mad adversary and can barely comprehend what Zarak is trying to tell him. Zarak orders the ever-loyal Krunk aside, and when his minion hesitates WUMPs him unconscious. He then reactivates Galen and the others, who waste no time in recombining with the Autobots. Zarak flees the Autobots and runs into Llyra. Together they attempt to escape, which is made easier when the Decepticon Targetmasters engage the retreating Autobots. (They're given a similar panel, showing off their weapon blasts.) Meanwhile, shrewd Llyra wants to know how Galen escaped. Zarak is distracted by the sounds of battle. When she demands to know if he freed them, he storms off. The battle calls to him, and he must answer. He has once again surrendered to the siren song of Scorponok, and his shadowy countenance is all too appropriate.

Llyra observes the recklessness of the Decepticons first hand, including her father, shouting like a loon. Fortress Maximus, in a bit of irony, grabs the statue of Nebulos and hurls it at the Targetmasters, allowing them to retreat. This same statue was the cause of the initial Autobot/Nebulon hostilities back in issue one, so its return is a rather deft touch.

The Autobots reunited, Galen follows Zarak's instructions and asks about Earth. When he learns that other Autobots there need his help, he orders an immediate withdrawal from Nebulon. He's not abandoning Nebulon, he's drawing the Decepticons away. When Llyra arrives and asks Galen to tell her the truth, wants him to tell her that he was a good guy all along, he tells her that he's going to 'escape this wretched mudball,' driving her away. He couldn't bear to leave, knowing that she still loves him. And so, Autobots and Decepticons alike depart for Earth, leaving behind the dream of robot and organic cohabitation. We end with a shot of Nebulon rebuilding, lead by a tearful Llyra who has lost so much.

Thus ends one of the strongest Transformers tales in the Marvel series. Even the pages devoted to the Targetmaster gimmick couldn't derail this very powerful conclusion. The dreams of Fortress Maximus and Galen lie in ruins. Lord Zarak has lost his mind, reprogrammed by his union with Scorponok. Llyra has lost both a lover and a father, and Nebulos suffered devastation after devastation. And yet, in a way, organics and mechanics DO learn to live and work together in this story. Zarak and Galen are briefly united in their desire to spare their world further harm, and act in concert. Springer's art works very well for the organic-heavy story, with plenty of emoting from our primary three actors.

Brothers in Armor!! is available from Titan books in the anthology  Transformers: Trial By Fire, and highly recommended for purchase.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Ark Addendum - Webworld (part 7)

Webworld! Webworld! Webworld!

Ahem. So, Webworld. Did you really think the paltry five patients from last week represented ALL of them? HAHAHA. NO!

Let's see. The spider-looking guy was marked as a patient, though he looks like he could possibly have been an early Alya design. Either way, it doesn't show up in the episode proper. I'm not sure the holly-bush monster (A SHRUBBERY!!! NI! NI! NI!) did either.

The Snail-guy did, though, curling up into his shell when menaced by Galvatron. The little gnome-looking fellow also made an appearance, in fact the first patient on the world that we encounter. The alien in the smock was working on some art therapy, and the many-legged creature literally goes to pieces when he sees Cyclonus and a Torkuli.

All told, a strange menagerie of patients from a variety of species. The designs definitely contribute to the feel of the madhouse that is Torkulon.